I met Jesus at a lake on July 1, 2013.
It was my first day as a staff member at Camp Saint Paul, the Direct Archdiocesan District summer camp in Litchfield, Connecticut.
I can’t succinctly explain it, but if you have been to summer camp or know anyone that has, then you will understand the presence of Christ that is there. If I was asked what the most life-changing experience of my life has been, I would say summer camp, hands down, because that is where I have learned so many lessons about my faith. As I prepare to go back for a fourth summer, I absolutely cannot stop thinking about how camp has shaped my life.
First and foremost, my faith had shrunk down to almost nothing before I attended camp for the first time, and it was bolstered completely within a few days at camp. After a few days interacting with Christ-centered individuals and trying to learn everything that I could about Orthodoxy, something shifted inside me, and I wanted to experience my faith so much more.
Working with children, and other Orthodox young adults, has taught me so much about life. My patience is ever-expanding, and I feel like I can relate to way more people than I ever would have known how to in the past. I can work with others, even those who are different from me, more readily, and I owe that to camp. I wouldn’t have as strong of a relationship with my grandparents or really anyone in my life if those relationships weren’t the Christ-centered ones that I learned how to create at camp.
And while I have had some of my most amazing experiences at camp, I have also had some experiences that haven’t been so great. But that’s probably one of the best parts. I’ve been upset, frustrated, tired...you name it. Over time, I’ve been humbled as I have come to realize Christ’s presence in these experiences. He was shaping me through them. Life really has mirrored camp for me in this way--that in my difficult times, I find that Christ is present and shaping me.
Since I met Jesus that fateful summer, I haven’t let Him out of my life. Most of the things that I’ve done since then I can say without a doubt I would not have had the opportunity to do if I had not attended summer camp, including having the job that I do right now, as just one of many examples. For things like this, I will forever be grateful to my camp experience.
Without camp, I would have not had an experience that allowed me to want to meet Christ and serve Him. That’s why my advice is, if you want to serve the Church in any capacity, spend your summer at camp with Him and others who love Him. As I watch former staff go on to take internships and jobs, I encourage them wholeheartedly to come back to camp. Doing so shows a desire to better oneself, to connect with Christ, and a responsibility to your health and well-being well beyond what you can find at an internship. But the only way that any of this will happen is if you deny yourself and let Christ in completely.
That’s why I am so excited that I was given the opportunity to go back to camp for a week this summer. I know that not everyone can do this, and so I won’t take it for granted. Even going for a weekend, or a liturgy if you can, is exceptionally helpful (to the camp, and to yourself).
I’ll always remember that I met Jesus at that lake, but I’ll also remember that now that we know each other, we can only strengthen our bond, and I can experience Him more fully, as He is present in all places and filling all things. That’s how I plan to take summer camp with me for the rest of my life.
Maria is the Administrative Coordinator of Y2AM. She is a New York native who isn't completely sold on the city's charm, yet has never left. A proud graduate of Fordham University and occasional runner, she is happiest whenever chocolate, a sale, or a good Gilmore Girls reference is involved.